TIME North Korea

See Kim Jong Un Celebrate Ascent of North Korea’s Highest Peak

This photo taken on April 18, 2015 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 20, 2015 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on a snow-covered Mount Paektu during sunrise in Ryanggang Province.
KNS—AFP/Getty Images This photo taken on April 18, 2015 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 20, 2015 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on a snow-covered Mount Paektu during sunrise in Ryanggang Province.

“Climbing Mt. Paektu provides precious mental pabulum more powerful than any kind of nuclear weapon,” said a state media report.

North Korean state media released a collection of celebratory images of leader Kim Jong Un at the summit of the country’s highest peak.

The state-run Rodong newspaper reported that Kim climbed Mt. Paektu on Saturday with a group of fighter pilots and other party and military leaders.

The country’s media is keen on portraying the supreme leader—a member of this year’s TIME 100—in action, such as when video surfaced of him flying a small plane.

North Korean propaganda says Mt. Paektu, which rises some 9,000 feet, was the birthplace of Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s father — though historians say he was actually born in Soviet Russia.

“When one climbs snow-stormy Mt. Paektu and undergoes the blizzards over it, one can experience its real spirit and harden the resolution to accomplish the Korean revolution,” the Rodong report said. “Climbing Mt. Paektu provides precious mental pabulum more powerful than any kind of nuclear weapon and it is the way for carrying forward the revolutionary traditions of Paektu and giving steady continuity to the glorious Korean revolution.”

TIME North Korea

Women’s Group Gets North Korea Support to Walk Across DMZ

Organizers of the effort called WomenCrossDMZ.org,Christine Ahn, left, and Gloria Steinem, right, March 11, 2015.
Bebeto Matthews—AP Organizers of the effort called WomenCrossDMZ.org, Christine Ahn, left, and Gloria Steinem on March 11, 2015

The walk is a call for reunification of the two Koreas

(UNITED NATIONS) — North Korea has decided to support a proposed walk across the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas by prominent women including Gloria Steinem, and organizers say they hope South Korea will give its approval as well.

Co-organizer Christine Ahn told The Associated Press that North Korea gave permission this week after she visited Pyongyang. The walk proposed for May 24 is a call for reunification of the two countries.

The DMZ is the world’s most fortified border, with the two Koreas still technically at war. The walk would mark the 70th anniversary of the division of the Korean Peninsula.

The walk would include two Nobel Peace laureates, and Ahn says North Korean women will walk with the group from Pyongyang to the DMZ.

Organizers of the effort called WomenCrossDMZ.org have said they hope for 30 women to cross from North Korea to South Korea on May 24, which is International Women’s Day for Disarmament.

The DMZ is one of the most highly charged places in the world. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers face off across the heavily mined zone that separates South Korea from closed-off, nuclear-armed North Korea.

“It’s hard to imagine any more physical symbol of the insanity of dividing human beings,” Steinem said during last month’s announcement of the walk.

Ahn said she had meetings in Pyongyang in the past week with officials from the country’s Overseas Korean Committee and Democratic Women’s Union. She said she received support to hold a symposium in North Korea on women and peacebuilding as well.

“I wish I knew how the ultimate decision was made, but at this point I’m just relieved that at least we have Pyongyang’s cooperation and support,” Ahn said in an email.

A North Korean diplomat to the U.N., Kim Song, last month told the AP the proposal was being discussed in his capital.

Ahn and the other participants also are calling on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean, as well as President Barack Obama and the leaders of North and South Korea to take the necessary actions to finally end the Korean War with a peace treaty. The war ended in 1953 with the armistice.

The women would like to cross the DMZ at the village of Panmunjom, which straddles the border and is the place where troops from North and South come closest, just a few yards (meters) from each other.

The women have said they take heart from successful crossings of the DMZ by five New Zealanders with motorbikes in 2013 and by 32 Korean Russians by motorcade last year. Both had permission from both sides.

This new attempt includes Nobel peace laureates Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, who worked to end those long-running conflicts.

Ahn has said the women are being advised by former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, and that the U.N. Command at the DMZ has said they would be willing to facilitate their crossing once South Korea’s government gives its approval.

TIME On Our Radar

See the Monumental Extravagance of North Korea’s Architecture

The country, through its architecture, seems to terrify and fascinate in equal measure

North Korea is a country that seems to terrify and fascinate in equal measure.

On the world stage, it is often associated with its current and former leaders Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Il, who are branded tyrants but also noted for their ability to look at things and their stylish haircuts. Still others seem entranced by the socialist architecture of its capital, Pyongyang.

Almost completely destroyed during the Korean War, the city was rebuilt from scratch and today provides one of the most striking examples of an entirely socialist-designed metropolis. In the photographs that circulate in the West, we see the perfection of its supersize statues, the neatness of its city squares, and the soaring, still unfinished Ryugyong Hotel. All of which seem like monuments to a giant, nation-encompassing personality cult.

In April 2014, Dutch photographer Eddo Hartmann set out to conquer his own fascination with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, kick-starting the project Setting the Stage: Pyongyang, North Korea.

Hartmann planned his trip for many months and teamed up with the Koryo Studio video team — the art division of a Beijing-based travel company — in order to help him get access. When he was on the ground, he had two North Korean guides with him at all times. He was told to use a digital camera, so authorities might check his work, and was not permitted to take photographs of military personnel or unfinished buildings — standard practice for any visitor to the country. And so, while these images are the work of the photographer, they are certainly touched by the heavy hand of the North Korean state.

The resulting Pyongyang is expansive and largely empty. Its walls are clean, its subway platforms sparkle and in its lobbies, flowers bloom. This is art photography, though, not documentary photography. Unlike David Guttenfelder’s work, we aren’t getting snapshots of everyday life, but instead are being presented with a considered, slow-burning meditation — one fascinated with public space.

There is a theatricality in Hartmann’s stillness too: a woman appears to hide behind a foyer pillar, two speakers look poised to broadcast a state-approved announcement. And yet the photographer doesn’t seem to want us to slam what we are seeing, nor to praise it. Instead, he calls attention to the global fascination with a country, and a city, that remains largely a mystery.

Eddo Hartmann is a photographer based in the Netherlands. Setting the Stage: Pyongyang, North Korea runs through June 7, 2015, at the Huis Marseille in Amsterdam

Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox

Read next: See 100 Years of Korean Beauty Trends In Just 90 Seconds

TIME North Korea

South Korean Activist Plans to Airdrop 10,000 Copies of The Interview to North Korea

Stunt planned for late March could raise tensions between the two countries

Despite North Korea’s best efforts to stamp out The Interview, the comedy film about the attempted assassination of Kim Jong-Un may yet land on its territory.

Defector-turned-activist Park Sang-Hak is planning to send as many as 10,000 copies of the movie and 500,000 propaganda leaflets across the North Korean border by balloon on an unspecified date at the end of the month, AFP reports.

The demonstration will coincide with the five-year anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean warship, which the country has blamed on North Korea.

The South Korean government has acknowledged activists’ right to send the balloons but asked them to refrain in order to avoid increasing increasing tensions. North Korea has said it will respond with “cannons and missiles” if the propaganda balloons cross its borders.

“Nobody can stop it,” Park said. “I will keep sending leaflets into North Korea at the risk of my life.”

[AFP]

TIME Bangladesh

North Korean Diplomat Caught Smuggling $1.4 Million in Gold in Bangladesh

Son Young Nam was carrying 60 pounds of gold

Bangladesh seized about $1.4 million worth of gold from a North Korean diplomat at Dhaka airport Friday, according to a senior official.

Customs officers detained Son Young Nam, the First Secretary of the North Korean Embassy in Dhaka, upon his arrival from Singapore with nearly 60 pounds of gold, according to Reuters. The chairman of the National Board of Revenue, Najbur Rahman, said that Nam had told officials there was nothing to scan in his hand luggage.

“Later we informed our foreign ministry and he was released on Friday under the Vienna Convention,” Rahman said.

The Vienna Convention grants diplomatic immunity to envoys like Nam, but Bangladesh said it will file charges in this case.

[Reuters]

TIME North Korea

North Korea Reopens Pyongyang Marathon to Foreign Runners

Runners pass under a pedestrian bridge during the running of the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon in Pyongyang, North Korea on April 13, 2014.
David Guttenfelder—AP Runners pass under a pedestrian bridge during the running of the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon in Pyongyang, North Korea on April 13, 2014.

The country had virtually sealed its borders in late October and imposed strict travel bans in response to the Ebola epidemic

Overseas runners will be allowed to participate in North Korea’s 2015 Pyongyang Marathon after the country reversed a ban on most foreigners entering the country.

Koryo Tours, a British tourism company based in Beijing, sent an email on Thursday stating that tourist applications for the April 12 race would be accepted, according to The New York Times. North Korea had imposed extensive restrictions on travel in October amid fears of the Ebola virus arriving in the isolated nation, which nullified the participation of international runners.

The country’s tourist industry is mainly fueled by visitors from China and Russia, but also a growing number of Westerners. Under the ban, only foreign aid workers and diplomats were given entry into the country — and were required to undergo a 21-day quarantine, according to Reuters.

North Korea is eager to boost its tourist industry, recently establishing its first luxury ski resort and opening up the marathon to recreational runners from abroad for the first time last year.

[NYT]

TIME South Korea

Seoul Police Probe U.S. Ambassador Attacker’s Visits to North Korea

U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert on March 5, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea
Kim Ju-sung—AP U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert on March 5, 2015, in Seoul

State media in Pyongyang applauded the slashing of Mark Lippert

The knife-wielding nationalist who attacked the U.S. ambassador to South Korea is having his travel history to North Korea reviewed as police weigh charging him with attempted murder.

Kim Ki-jong slashed Ambassador Mark Lippert’s face in a knife attack ahead of a Korean reunification forum Thursday, leaving a 4-in. gash on his face and a wound on his left hand. Kim claims the attack was a protest against this week’s joint military exercises by South Korea and the U.S.

On Friday, Kim’s house was raided by police, who hope to obtain a detention warrant against the prounification zealot. But central to pursuing an attempted murder charge will be evaluating Kim’s presence in North Korea over the past decades.

Kim made seven trips to North Korea from 1999 to 2007, according to Seoul police officials.

“We are investigating whether there is any connection between the suspect’s visits to North Korea and the crime committed against the U.S. ambassador,” said Yoon Myeong-seong, a local police chief.

Meanwhile, state media in Pyongyang applauded Kim’s actions with typical belligerence, describing the incident as “deserved punishment” for U.S.–South Korean military cooperation, and saying the 55-year-old wielded “the knife of justice.”

[Reuters]

TIME South Korea

North Korea Applauds Knife Attack on U.S. Ambassador

The assailant reportedly shouted "South and North Korea should be reunified”

You can’t see it on television, but South Korean President Park Geun-hye has a scar that runs from her right ear to her chin. In person, up close, it is just visible below her makeup, a smooth cut that follows the curve of her face. She’s had it since 2006, when she was attacked on the campaign trail by a man wielding a utility knife.

On Thursday, in an eerily similar incident, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was slashed on the face and wrist in the South Korean capital. Photographs from the scene showed him holding the right side of his face, with blood visible on his left hand, and his pink tie splattered red. The U.S. Department of State confirmed the attack and said his injuries are not life threatening. CNN reports that he required 80 stitches. (Park’s attack, by comparison, required 60.)

Lippert, 42, was preparing to deliver an early-morning speech at a restaurant attached to the Sejong Cultural Institute in central Seoul when he was struck with a 10-in. blade. The attacker — since identified by South Korean authorities as 55-year-old Kim Ki-jong — reportedly shouted “South and North Korea should be reunified” during the attack, and continued to shout anti-U.S. slogans as he was restrained.

Both governments responded quickly. “We strongly condemn this act of violence,” said Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department. President Park called the incident “intolerable,” likening it to an assault on the South Korea–U.S. military alliance itself. But North Korea applauded the stabbing, calling it a “knife attack of justice.”

The U.S. military has a long-standing presence in South Korea, an arrangement that dates back to the end of the 1950–1953 Korean War. There are currently some 30,000 American troops on the ground, and each spring, U.S. and South Korean forces engage in joint military exercises. North Korea considers the war games a dress rehearsal for invasion, and some South Koreans believe the annual exercises hurt the divided peninsula’s prospects for reconciliation.

Authorities are still investigating the incident, though the timing, and the attacker’s comments, suggest his motivations were political. The suspect said at the scene and online that he was protesting against the start of this year’s military drills. In 2010, Kim lobbed a piece of concrete at Japanese ambassador to South Korea. He received a two-year sentence that was suspended for three years, according to Yonhap, a local newswire.

Notwithstanding these incidents, a daylight attack on a foreign envoy is highly unusual for Seoul. The city of almost 10 million is, by global standards, a peaceful, prosperous place, known these days for its vibrant pop-music and fashion scenes, not political violence.

The well-liked Lippert, a longtime aide to U.S. President Barack Obama who arrived in Seoul in October of last year, was often seen out and about in the capital, greeting local people while walking his family’s basset hound, Grigsby (who, it turns out, has his own Twitter account). Lippert’s son was born in the city, and he and his wife Robyn even gave him a Korean middle name.

Questions are already mounting about security, especially in light of the 2006 knife attack on the now President Park. How did a man with a large knife and history of violence get so close to the ambassador? A spokesperson for the group that hosted the event, the Korea Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, has already apologized for the security breach.

And while the attack might mean tighter security at upcoming events, Grigsby won’t be alone in hoping that the gregarious ambassador is back pounding the city’s sidewalks soon.

Read next: U.S. Envoy to South Korea Injured in Blade Attack

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME North Korea

Canadian Pastor Feared Detained in North Korea

Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim had previously traveled to North Korea on many occasions without incident

Fears are growing for a Canadian pastor currently in North Korea who has not been heard from since Jan. 31 when he was invited by officials to the capital Pyongyang, according to a well-known South Korean activist.

Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim, of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, has been to North Korea “hundreds of times,” a fellow church member in Canada said, but has never been out of communication for this long before, the AFP reports.

Initially, friends thought the 60-year-old’s lack of communication was due to the 21-day quarantine imposed on foreign visitors due to the Ebola virus, but that time period has now expired.

“As far as I know, he was asked by officials to come to Pyongyang on Jan. 31 before he went incommunicado,” Reverend Chun Ki-Won, a personal acquaintance of Hyeon’s, told AFP.

It is now feared that his disappearance is connected to some of the food-related humanitarian efforts he was involved in, as these projects had been tied to associates of Jang Song-Thaek, national leader Kim Jong Un’s late uncle, who was arrested and executed in 2012.

Religious freedom is severely restricted in North Korea, and foreign missionaries are often treated with strong suspicion. A few have been allowed in to help humanitarian efforts, but those caught proselytizing or participating in unauthorized activities are immediately arrested.

The Canadian government has not yet confirmed Hyeon’s disappearance.

[AFP]

TIME North Korea

North Korea Said to Ban Foreigners From Marathon

Regime reportedly cites Ebola as a concern

North Korea has banned foreigners from participating in the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon, citing concerns over Ebola, a company that facilitates foreign travel to the isolated country said Monday.

“We are sorry to announce that our North Korean partners contacted us this morning with news that the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon has — as of today — been closed to amateur and professional foreign runners,” Koryo Tours said in a statement on its website.

The marathon, scheduled this year for April 12, typically draws a large foreign contingent. Koryo Tours alone had planned to take 500 people to the country for the event, according to Reuters. The company said it planned for March tours to proceed as previously scheduled.

North Korean authorities also reportedly cancelled the annual Mass Games—a gymnastics festival that typically drew a foreign crowd—without providing an explanation.

The North Korean government offered no apparent explanation for its Ebola concerns. The disease has killed thousands of people around the world, but none of the deaths have been in Asia. The country’s government has claimed through state television that Ebola was created by the U.S. government.

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